Neo Soul Today

Neo Soul Today is an authoritative source for informed and intelligent opinion, reviews, news, and other content about neo soul music, its artists, culture, and industry.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Still Alive

I just wanted to let you know that I'm still alive. Fatherhood and career have been consuming me since my last post. But, hey; here at Neo Soul Today it's not about quantity, it's about quality. So, stay tuned. However, just to keep it fair and balanced, I have been formulating my next post. My hope is that it will be just as thought-provoking as my last (Are Neo Soul Listeners Elitists?). Since you've been so loyal, I'll let you know what I plan to title it: "Overall, Do Overseas Listeners Appreciate Neo Soul More?" I plan to incorporate some intriguing commentary from some listeners from around the globe to see if the question answers itself.

Speaking of my last post, what's up? Where's the opinion? Agree, disagree? I want to hear your thoughts.

Also, for those of you who have attempted to click an audio link in one of my past Neo Soul Sound Sessions, I apologize for them not working. The web hosts where I store the audio for them are located in various countries around the world. Some of them are here one day and gone the next. I will restore that audio as soon as I can.

In the meantime, my hobby hasn't waned. Whenever I've found a free moment, I have been trying to catch up on researching for new, underground neo soul artists or new upcoming albums. When you have time, check out these artists:

1. Debórah Bond (
website - cdbaby)
2. Vanessa Freeman (
website - iTunes)
3. Carol Riddick (

Finally, if you don't keep up with the world of underground music, you may have never heard of J Dilla. J Dilla was an outstanding Hip Hop producer whose sound has its own unique, underground signature. His reach and body of work includes contributions to projects by artists too numerous to list. Unfortunately, on Febrary 10, 2006 he gave way to an incurable blood disease and lupus leaving behind massive numbers of mourning underground artists and listeners worldwide. Just to give you a sense of his contribution, take some time to listen to this commemorative compilation courtesy of (WARNING: explicit lyrics).

-- Sean

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Are Neo Soul Listeners "Elitists?"

By Sean
Editor-in-Chief, Neo Soul Today

Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I ask myself if I'm a "music snob." I mean, really. Do I think I'm superior to others because I love music that a majority of the world's population doesn't even know exists; and am serious about it? Do I think I'm better than even those who listen to neo soul (or whatever you choose to call it), but are less serious about it?

There was a very good October 17, 2003 Boston Globe article by Renee Graham entitled "Neo Soul Movement Stirs Soul Feud." Graham's article discussed how neo soul artists -- for all of their original promise -- had not continued to make a major impact. It postulated that, at the end of 2003, the "neo soul movement" had retreated to the underground and was trying to regain mainstream attention with artists such as Anthony Hamilton. Also, the article went into how artists, such as Hamilton and Lizz Fields, were (and still are) ambivalent toward the term "neo soul" -- virtually a requirement for any literary work on the subject. It reviewed how neo soul was all but on its way to the mainstream and was more than just a paradigm shift in music. Rather, it was a "movement and a mind-set;" out of which even a movie, "Love Jones" (1997), was born targeted toward this so-called "neo soul mind-set" market and thereby perpetuating the movement. Unsurprisingly, Ms. Graham goes on to propose that neo soul's initial failing was "the media-created label itself -- a term that the artists, whom it was meant to represent, generally rejected." Well, if you're a regular Neo Soul Today reader, this irony central to the music is not news to you. So what, then, makes this article so interesting? Consider, if you will, the following excerpt from Ms. Graham's article:

"Reveling in a music-first ethic, the neo-soul movement could seem a little sanctimonious. It was soul music for smart people, with a tangible elitism and self-importance that some may have found off-putting."

Wow. Is she right? Keep reading.

Late last year, I came across a blog named "The Soul Movement" with a well-written post entitled "Soul Music: A Serious Contender to Hip-Hop's Economic Throne?" by freelance writer and underground soul artist publicist Gabriel Rich. The post cites some astounding statistics about the so-called the "neo soul mindset" market from studies conducted by market research think tanks TMG and Edison Media Research. Ponder this from Rich's post:

It is estimated that "the (Neo) Soul mindset market represents 50 million consumers with a mind-boggling $65 million in buying power"

"The median age of the (Neo) Soul consumer is 32.2"

"60% of females list (Neo) Soul as their favorite music compared to 39% of males"

"African-Americans comprise over 60% of the Soul music’s listeners. Whites make up around 20%."

"The average income of the (Neo) Soul listener is $85,000"

"4 out of 5 (Neo) Soul listeners have college experience or hold college degrees"

Very interesting. I've been in touch with Gabriel and he confirmed that these numbers are authentic and accurate and that his sources are credible. Based on these statistics, he concludes that "Soul is the music of the mature adult." I've always held that sentiment and these numbers simply quantify it. However, do these numbers also support Ms. Graham's claim that the neo soul movement is "sanctimonious," "for smart people" with a "tangible elitism" and sense of "self-importance?" Well, I can confidently infer that "the majority" of serious neo soul listeners are educated, established, affluent, predominantly black, and predominantly female.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Many marketing departments in corporate America appear convinced as well. You may have noticed this yourself when watching TV, reading a black magazine, or observing billboards in urban areas. For instance, in 2003, Coke launched its "Real" advertising campaign as part of a broader marketing strategy to reinvigorate the brand by increasing its share of the young adult market. This campaign is most notable for its TV ads featuring everyday people in everyday situations. The third TV ad to launch in the campaign featured Mya and Common performing a duet about staying "real and true to one's self." Subsequent spots featured both mainstream and undergroud artists including Angie Stone, Musiq, The Roots' Scratch and ?uestlove, Amel Larreiux, Aaries, and Donnie. A 2003 EURweb article quoted Hussein Warmack, Coke Classic brand manager, as saying "We’ve chosen to go with artists from the neo classic soul music genre" because "neo soul is about being true to yourself. Being real. They write their own lyrics, sing their own music, dress how they want to dress." Baileys' "Get Together" marketing campaign offers print and billboard ads featuring mature, late-20s to late-30s adults (more women than men) getting together and socializing while drinking Baileys Irish Cream. Baileys and Coke are only two examples of companies apparently targeting this $65 million "neo soul mindset" market of affluent, young, educated adults who know what they like and have an easily-identifiable trait in common -- a love for neo soul.

So clearly, more evidence is surfacing suggesting that many (not all) serious neo soul listeners have a common mindset supported by similarities in economic status (affluent), race (majority black), gender (more women than men), age (late-20s to late-30s), and education (mostly college-educated). Coincidentially, I obviously love neo soul and I match in every characteristic except for one -- gender (I'm 100% male).

So, although I always try to avoid generalizations, I can understand Ms. Graham's claim that the so-called "neo soul movement" consists of "smart people" with a "music-first ethic." However, I'm still struggling to understand where the claim that a "tangible" sense of "elitism" exists amongst neo soul listeners.

Recently, when doing a Google search on the phrase "neo soul," I ran across a bulletin board thread at entitled "What's Wrong With the Term Neo Soul???" In fact, this thread was how I discovered Ms. Graham's article. The thread, begun by Digital DJs' DJ Melodic, reprised the article and posed the question, "Are we witnessing the downfall of this soul movement??? What can we do to make this music more mainstream???" The thread began and peaked over a time period from June 2003 to October 2003 and consists of interesting intellectual analyses (some overly analytical, some tangential) of Ms. Graham's article. However, the first person (codenamed "SaSkWatch") to reply was also intrigued by the paragraph containing the "elitist" reference, in particular. I highly recommend reading DJ Melodic's thread in its entirety.

In a nutshell, the most intriguing and honest replies appear to come from serious neo soul listeners who candidly admit that their rare musical tastes bear on the side of elitism and "musical bigotry." While these particular posters' candidness about their elitist tendencies is admirable, they also appear to struggle internally with it. They appear to struggle with the fact that their exclusive tastes may, just may, be one of the reasons why the neo soul artists they dote over struggle (no pun intended) to manufacture but one album, struggle to break into the mainstream, struggle to fill the house for a single concert, or, frankly, struggle to make a decent living. Below are some quotes from the thread relevant to the "elitism" claim that I found to be the most telling:

"I personally think that two of Soul Artist's greatest enemies have been the artists and the fans themselves...I have to look at my own self in the mirror and admit I too presented an elitist attitude regarding music. I have been called everything including being a 'musical bigot'. I would go on these self-important rants about why...Jill Scott is better than Ashanti, etc. This self-importance is pertinent to who, the 10 people that bought the Bilal LP? It sure is not important to the million plus that buys Nelly records. We complain about why [our artists] don't reach mainstream success, but its not like we endear ourselves to the mass market. The Roots and Jaguar Wright [make] a Coke commercial and you scream bloody murder. Common stands next to Mya, and you are like WTF? If we don't re-evaluate our thinking then we might be witnessing the end of a great musical renassiance. How can our artists afford to live, raise families, etc., when they can only get small venue shows, and the chosen few are buying their CDs?"

"The common consensus is that in some way we have all been deemed elitists and bigots because of our very stringent opinions. I consider myself an intellectual, and I will admit that I like that I'm into music that [a] majority may not like or know about. It kind [of] confirms my belief that [my]mindset is different (like my third eye is wide open...). But at the same time, I love the artists and their musical innovation -- and I want them to succeed and get the recognition they so rightfully deserve."

Some of these posts, prompt me to ask if folks like the music they claim to listen to or rather are they just trying to be different/fashionable/hip or whatever by claiming they like certain artists?"

"You have people who have dedicated their lives to music...They study it, live it, breathe it, perform it, and collect it like it was the sweet nectar of life. Conversely, I think you have people that look at music as a simple distraction...Ya know, its not that serious for them. Maybe its that commitment level that drives people to Soul, creates that elitist atmosphere or thought process, and lead people to sites like these. Let's face it, Soul Music is special music. I personally think that music has a higher purpose in a person's life. It can make people get "happy" in church. It gives you the goosebumps and/or gives you a feeling of euphoria. It can control your mood and your mindstate. Something that powerful should be looked at seriously and that wisdom needs to be shared...BUT... Just because we listen to special music, that doesn't make us special people."

So what is my take on this proposal that serious neo soul listeners are essentially self-important elitists who think they are smarter than the masses? As of today, February 12, 2006, I identify the most with SaSkWatch's sentiments three years ago. I, too, am struggling with the underlying dichotomy of my passion for neo soul music and its artists. See, I still cannot go as far as to say I wish neo soul and its artists would go mainstream. It is the music's fundamental rareness, genuineness, and uniqueness that drives me to love it and the artists that make it. Yet, simultaneously, I'm pained by the fact that many of these artists have to struggle to live as a result of remaining independent and not going mainstream. Nestled within my DNA is an appreciation for going against the grain and being somewhat different than the masses when it comes to certain preferences (e.g., rare music such as neo soul). I truly believe, without any direct evidence, that many people who love neo soul also share this desire to be different. See, everyone has a set of preferences. Of those preferences, I'm sure there are one or two that you believe you know more about than most people in the world. In my case, neo soul just happens to be one of them. However, I do not think I'm superior or elite because I think I know more about neo soul than most?

Perhaps the "elistist" reference is more about the assumed economic and educational position of those with the "neo soul mindset" and less about the music.

Please comment with your thoughts. What do you think? After digesting the information in this post, do you think serious neo soul listeners (or those with the "neo soul mindset") are elitists?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Soul Album Review: Days Ahead's "Turning Point"

By Sean
Editor-in-Chief, Neo Soul Today

Typically, whenver I'm leisurely listening to Liquid Soul Radio via, I'm doing other things simultaneously. Every so often, I hear a good, new soul song, switch to the Live 365 music player window, and note the name of the artist and song. For years, this has been my primary method of ad hoc underground soul artist discovery.

Over a year ago, I heard an incredible, upbeat, jazzy song, led by gracefully strong female vocals and backed by a live band. I immediately stopped what I was doing and checked the name of the artist/group and song. The group's name was Days Ahead and the song title was "You Move Me." I proceeded with the process I normally follow whenever I find a lead. First, I went to my reliable source,, to see if they had it. No luck. Next, I checked my secondary source, iTunes. No luck. Finally, I checked my third source, No luck. "Oh well," I said to myself. Liquid Soul did it again: hit me with a fresh new artist so far underground that I couldn't find them anywhere. Not even a Google search yielded anything.

About two months ago, I heard "You Move Me" again when listening to Liquid Soul Radio and did another Google search. This time, (to my surprise and after nearly a year) via another site, I arrived at the Days Ahead
website. I was happy to discover that their debut album, Turning Point (2005, Nightingale60 Publishing (BMI), Stephen Wright (BMI)), is now available. It was at their website that I listened to extended-length track samples to confirm that it was worth a buy. I must say, this album is very good.

Listen to my favorite tracks from Days Ahead's "Turning Point"

My Favorite 8 Tracks from Turning Point's 10 Tracks

1. You Move Me
2. Love Is Love
4. For the Love
5. Good Ole' Days
6. It's In Your Hands
7. Days Ahead
9. Don't Fall Too Fast
10. Courting a Fantasy

Out of my 8 favorite tracks above, I like You Move Me (track 1), For the Love (track 4), and It's In Your Hands (track 6; especially the chorus) the most.

Formally known as daysahead, the Atlanta-based band has such a unique sound. According to the band's website, they consider themselves an acid jazz band combining elements of jazz, soul, and rock. What caught my ear the most was the unmistakable soul interwoven in their jazzy music. What caught my interest the most was what they refer to as "maturity" and "diversity" in their sound.

A Little About The Band
Days Ahead is a 4-piece band consisting of guitar (electric and acoustic), lead vocals, bass, and drums. Amazingly, there are no keyboards. The band is led by the powerful vocals of Kim Leachman supported by Steve Wright (guitarist and producer), Brandon Gilliard (bassist), and James Barrett (drummer). There are also other contributing backup members for each of the different instruments.

Buy it!
I highly recommend buying "Turning Point" from iTunes or

Neo Soul Today Album Rating
4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Soul Album Review: Eric Roberson's "The Appetizer"

By Sean
Editor-in-Chief, Neo Soul Today

Ever since releasing his underground soul classic, "The Vault Vol. 1.5" (Steel Petal, 2004),
Eric Roberson has been on a very short list of my all-around favorite artists. Last week, I purchased the Rahway, New Jersey native's latest CD "The Appetizer" (2005, Blue Erro Soul). Let's just say that my expectations were dangerously high and my disappointment was satisfyingly low.

Eric originally intended to make an E.P. of five new songs "to satisfy people's hunger, till [his] album came out next year." However according to his CD insert, "I couldn't settle on what five to choose from so I did ten...A range of old and new songs that show my growth, my soul, and my love for honest music." And that he did.

"The Appetizer" takes the listener through a pleasant journey of different sounds, styles, and subject matter. The vibes range from a modern soulful freestyle with Floetry's Marsha Ambrosius (Track 1), works reminiscent of the best of DJ Jazzy Jeff and Pete Rock (Tracks 2, 9 and 10), a smooth ballad (Track 5), early 90s-centric slow jams reminiscent of Aaron Hall and Guy (Track 8), and more.

Listen to my favorite tracks from "The Appetizer"

My Favorite Tracks from "The Appetizer"
(NOTE: I've included the excerpts of Eric's liner notes for each track as they tell a story)
1. N2U (feat. Marsha Ambrosius) - "If you've been to my show you know I like to freestyle. Well this song we sang completely off the head. One take each... No protocols, auto tune, etc... Marsha is my heart man. We did this the same night as 'She Ought To Know'. She heard it and the rest is history."
2. What I Gotta Do? - "Kev [Brown] and I are building an amazing musical partnership. Not only is he one of the craziest visionaries behind the MP, but the most humble cat you'll ever meet."
5. Just A Dream - "I wrote this song in college one lonely Saturday night sitting with my guitar. Years later when Larry Gold asked me to be on his album I dusted this baby off and gave it to him. One of my greatest musical memories was walking into the studio and hearing Larry's 18 piece orchestra playing to my song."
6. Softest Lips - "This song was one of the million we recorded during my years recording and developing myself at A Touch of Jazz Studios. Out of all the producers there at that time I bonded musically with Vidal the most."
8. The Moon - "I did this song when I was a sophomore at Howard University & an artist on Warner Brothers back in 93-94. I left school, shot a video, went on tour, moved to a big apartment, and thought I was a star... Well I also went broke, lost my deal, humbled myself, went back to school and GRADUATED, and became a much better preson than I thought I was then."
9. We Can't Pretend - "Another key joint that I wrote with my boy Pete. That's right a co-write with someone... I do that sometimes. Yo Pete has developed into a great writer and dope artist so keep a look out for Peter Hadar."
10. For Da Love Of Da Game (feat. Raheem DeVaughn and V) - "This song means so much to me because it involves two of my favorite singers & writers. V, who inspired me to follow the music in my heart and Raheem, who reminds me of me when I was younger."

Buy it!
I highly recommend buying "The Appetizer" from,, or directly from Eric's website (

Neo Soul Today Album Rating
4 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 31, 2005

The "Neo Soul" Debate: Enough is Enough; Let's Just Move On

By Sean
Editor-in-Chief, Neo Soul Today

Enough is enough.

I don't disagree that the term "neo soul" was created by a marketing executive (Kedar Massenburg). So what. As a listener, I understand both sides' point. Nevertheless, I don't see what the big deal is. Since launching Neo Soul Today, I have realized three truths:

1. That the term "neo soul" (as controversial as it may be) has stuck
That this music (today's soul) is truly different than anything else that's out there (in sound and substance)
That the split over the term "neo soul" will never go away and that both sides have a valid point. Quoted from Wikipedia:

"Many musicians who create what is considered "neo-soul" prefer to disassociate themselves from the tag, due to the term's buzzword-like usage. These artists argue that many record labels, hoping to cash in on the success of the "neo-soul" style, simply had A&R departments take R&B singers, give them a bohemian look, and have them state Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, or Marvin Gaye as their favorite artists. Instead of using the "neo-soul" tag, many artists simply refer to themselves as soul musicians."
I've also learned since launching this blog that music artists and marketing go together like oil and water. Nevertheless, the harsh reality is that both need each other and I believe most artists understand this. Here's why I believe this to be the case.

Consider two 2002 interviews with Rapheal Saadiq. In one
interview with Sacramento News and Review, Saadiq said, "I don’t believe neo-soul really fully describes my music. I prefer to call it 'gospeldelic’--that term seems much more encompassing, particularly since I come from a gospel background." In the other interview with VH1, Raphael Saadiq said he thinks the term [neo soul] is 'wack.'" However, he also went on to say "I understand why they do it for marketing reasons." I found that last statement enlightening.

Consider another example from a Honey Soul
audio interview with one of my favorite artists, Julie Dexter. When discussing being mentioned in the same sentence as artists such as Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, she used the term "neo soul." She said, "...that term is quite redundant. You know, I don't consider any of us neo soul. You know, you write soul or jazz or whatever you are. It's not necessarily new." However, she went on to say, "But people have to put a name on our music, I guess, at least to categorize what we do so when you go to a store looking through a thousand CDs, you can go to that section to find what you want to find." That's all I'm saying. Julie and I think exactly the same way. I'm not the greatest fan of the term "neo soul" either and soul definitely is not new. Yet, today's flavor of soul (and all of its sound variants) is clearly different than anything out there and without some way to isolate it, how will listeners be able to find it in the record store when they don't have a particular artist in mind? A "soul" section would be too broad. I don't care what you call it. Just call it something.

With all of that said, my
September 5 opinion on Raheem DeVaughn not being what I originally considered to be a neo soul artist has been my most controversial post to date. However, it was taken totally out of context by a few. If you've consistently read the content at Neo Soul Today, all opinion pieces are presented in a respectful manner and focus on the music and the artists that make it. Contrary to what some may believe, I love DeVaughn's music. I bought his album and will likely buy his next. I just learned that his music is more diverse than I, at first, thought. The post was neither a diss nor criticism. His diversity is to his credit. I just had the wrong expectation (that he was a neo soul artist) when I purchased the album (and I know for a fact that I'm not alone from my personal circles). My next purchase will just come with a different level of expectation as to the brother's sound.

Let's Just Move On
Admittedly, I'm exhausted with the debate over the term itself. I say let's just get on with enjoying the music. I would even rename Neo Soul Today to "Soul Today" (, but it's just not worth the time and effort (similar to trying to undo calling "neo soul" "neo soul"). Get in where you fit in. If you want to call it "soul," call it soul (because it is soul). If you want to call it "neo soul," then call it "neo soul" (because since the mid 1980s, soul went dormant -- click
here for more info). We all know what music I'm talking about; so let's stop kidding each other and being so sensitive about the subject. If you find my thoughts and analyses to be nonsensical and unintelligible, then I'm sure there are other blogs out there that are a better use of your time. I created this blog to connect with others who like this music (whatever you want to call it).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Neo Soul Sound Session: The Alternative Rock Sound - Vol. 1

By Sean
Editor-in-Chief, Neo Soul Today

This Neo Soul Sound Session introduces a series of exclusive Neo Soul Today mixes containing songs that have what I refer to as the alternative rock sound.

Many are unaware that a handful neo soul songs have an alternative rock flavor rich with elements of acoustic or electric guitar, the treble of cymbals, all uniquely combined with modern soul. Some may even question it. That's understandable since the sound is fairly abstract and difficult to articulate in words as I've attempted to do in earlier posts on the different sounds of neo soul. Well, now with Neo Soul Sound Sessions @ Neo Soul Today, you can let your ears be the judge. Give these tracks a listen and then let me know if you see where I'm coming from now. (For more background on my perspective on the different sounds of neo soul, see "
Neo Soul Lexicon: Sound.")

I love this rare aspect of neo soul. I wish more artists would make some songs that delve into this sound. Among these seven tracks, my favorite is track 1, Rise, by Ian featuring Robin McElhatten from the 2002 compilation album Organic Soul Vol. 1 (
Soul Brother Records).

I hope you enjoy it and I welcome your feedback via comments.

Listen to "The Alternative Rock Sound - Vol. 1"

"The Alternative Rock Sound - Vol. 1" Track Listing
1. Rise - Ian (feat. Robin McElhatten), Organic Soul Vol. 1
2. Voyager - Les Nubians, Princesses Nubiennes
3. Don't Disturb the Peace - Ladybug Mecca, Trip the Light Fantastic
4. They-Say Vision - RES, How I Do
5. Dust - Van Hunt, Van Hunt
6. Golden Boys - RES, How Do I
7. You Never Get Over It - Ladybug Mecca, Trip the Light Fantastic

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Sound Off: What Do YOU Think of the Term "Neo Soul?"

By Sean
Editor-in-Chief, Neo Soul Today

"Sound Off" is a series of posts specifically designed to allow our readers to sound off on a controversial topic. The intention is to guage the overall sentiment about a topic and to put readers' opinions and thoughts on center stage. "Sound Off" posts are of no value without you, the reader, voicing your opinion by posting a comment. As the number of comments grows, I will highlight a number of hard-hitting ones that are characteristic of the overall sentiment (which can range from vastly one-sided to split down the middle). Thus, please post a comment with your thoughts on the topic at hand.

Topic: I knew the term "neo soul" was controversial. However, since starting Neo Soul Today back in June 2005, I've learned that it is much more controversial than I once thought. I knew a sizeable population of artists were not too fond the term. However, I didn't know how strongly they detest the term until now. Merely from conversations within my social circles, it was clear to me that listeners didn't care either way what it was called; so long as they can easily identify it and know where to go to find it (e.g., in brick-and-mortar or online record stores). Obviously, my current sentiment is that although "neo soul" (or whatever you want to call it) is indeed "soul," its sound is distinct enough for it to be classified (or sub-classified) differently just for the sake of isolating the artists whose sounds and vibes are characterized by this style. However, am I wrong? Neo Soul Today was founded with the intention of connecting and sharing with people who hold this sentiment. Nevertheless, some comments on this blog have led me to believe that there is even a sizeable population of listeners who detest the term "neo soul" just as or more passionately than many artists do.

Sound off: Who's right? Is "neo soul" a misused marketing term for what is really just good soul music that does not conform to mainstream standards? Or is it an ancestor of soul that is distinct enough to be called something else (i.e., "neo soul") so listeners can easily identify it when they hear the term or see it on the music racks?

The power is in your voice. Please post a comment now to sound off on this topic. Your comment may just be featured!